Wednesday, December 30, 2020

More Simplicity, Less Outward Glory, but More Fullness, Evidence, and Spiritual Efficacy

WCF 7.6 Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

There is a gospel (new testament) principle of simplicity at the core of what Christ's finished work has done to our worship. 

The Priest is now in heaven. The sacrifice has been performed once for all. He sings through His people's mouths and accompanies it by His work in the heart. His blessing is proclaimed by preaching, and in His royal-priesthood's admonishing one another in song and showing forth His death until He comes. 

The very simplicity of the Christian worship assembly's liturgy announces, "the substance of these things is not so much here as it is in glory, where we are seated with Him, and where He presents us, and from where He preaches and He sings and He gives us Himself!" (cf. Heb 2:10–13, Eph 2:4–10)

Whatever extra formality is added upon earth mutes this announcement and obscures this reality. When we worship in simplicity and purity, we are not exulting in simplicity and purity but rather exulting in God through Christ. If, lacking the Spirit-given faith to perceive Him, we attempt to dress things up with that which we think will better present Him to ourselves, we unwittingly muddle the very means by which the Spirit is ordinarily pleased to give that faith.

When once God deemed it good to give Himself through the voice on the mountain as fleshed out by the inscripturated pattern given to Moses, His people frequently thought this might be enhanced by various locations and images, which came to be enshrined in their traditions. But God said that doing so is to "hate Him," and indeed He hated their worship (cf. Deu 4–5). They could only have the true God by way of the given worship.

Now, God has deemed it good to give Himself through the finished work of His only-begotten Son, personally led by the God-Man from the throne of glory and grace. The true "worship war" is not so much among varying preferences of men as it is between the gospel simplicity in which Christ is held forth and whatever hiding of Him from true Spiritual view comes by man's sophomoric (indeed, idolatrous) additions to that simplicity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

We Need a Luke 2 Shepherd Song with Some Real Terror in It—To Point Us to the Eschatological Joy in It!

We are enjoying the kindness of our merciful God on our annual seaside holiday.

Trying to anticipate what we might get in worship this week (often a sketchy proposition on holiday) to address in family worship times, it seems that the minister has been preaching through Handel's Messiah (at least it's full of Scripture!). He has hit all the Isaiah passages. If he doesn't change gears, likely candidates include Mal 3:1–3, Luk 2:8–14, Zec 9:9–10, Psalm 2, 1Cor 15:20–22/51–57, Rom 8:31–34, Rev 5:9–14.

In opening the Luke passage, we considered the sheer terror these shepherds must have known: not just one warrior of heaven's army, but God's very glory itself enveloping them, and then the thundering host of an entire battalion of heaven.

And yet, their fear was stayed by the mighty word that because of the Savior, Christ the Lord, God's most heavenly glory was actually for their peace rather than their destruction, expressed in His goodwill rather than enmity!!
Luke 2:8–17
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
No wonder, then, that what they were most excited about at the manger was that this sign had successfully verified this fact: by virtue of the Savior, we will stand in the presence of His glory not with exceeding terror but with great joy. He came not only that we might be forgiven, but that we might be preserved and perfected, so that on that day when we stand before Him, He will have made us faultless, and we will be filled with His joy!

This of course prompted reflection upon Jude, vv20–25
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
25 To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
So, we brought this back full circle to how much we have been enjoying His mercy. Not in ignorance, like so many poor ones 'round us for whom our hearts ache at the terror which awaits them. We enjoy all of these mercies, because we know that they are subsidiary to THAT great mercy—that we have a Savior in Whom all God's doings toward us are peace and goodwill. And one day, that greatest of all mercies will be to stand in the presence of His glory, faultless, with great joy!

I don't merely wish you contented moments and wholesome pleasures. I pray for you that they would be for you not illusions that precede horror, but foretastes that precede the exceeding gladness of sinlessly enjoying the full display of His glory.